Sometimes unexpected emergency events happen in schools that require you to relocate your class extremely quickly. This can create a lot of anxiety for our students that are very structure and schedule driven. Plus, once you get to the new location, you may have to keep them quiet and occupied until you are released to go back to your classroom. One of the craziest days in my educational career, so far, was the day there was a tornado warning and my classroom of students with severe autism had to stay in a duck and cover position in the hallway for over an hour. I will never forget the anxiety through the building, the exponential anxiety felt by my schedule driven and sensory overloaded students, and all the strategies I had to use to keep my class safe (in a duck and cover position no less) and quiet during the emergency.
The best way to prevent chaos when you are asked to leave your classroom is to prepare ahead of time. Here are some tips for preparing your students for unexpected changes in their schedules:
Create a social narrative
An evidence-based way to prepare students for new or unexpected events is to create and read a social narrative. When creating a social narrative, be sure to use positive language, remind the reader that he/she is safe, and use simple language. The narrative can be read when students are calm and in their normal environment and will give students a script on how to behave if an emergency happens.
Just like all tasks, practice makes perfect. Once your students are comfortable with the social narrative, plan a practice relocation drill. Maybe you teach a class in the library or outside one day. Remind students the procedures they learned through the social narrative and reward appropriate behavior during the practice drill.
Assemble a grab and go bag
A grab and go bag can be a lifesaver. Not only can this bag be used for campus emergencies and drills, but it also comes in handy if students need to be relocated due to a melt-down or physically aggressive behavior in the classroom. I keep this bag near my door and make sure that support staff in my room feel comfortable using it. In the bag, pack quiet preferred activities, a copy of staff and student contact information, snacks, extra copies of the behavior reinforcement system used class, calming sensory fidgets (if your class uses figets routinely) and a couple of academic activities that can keep instruction going if you are going to be out of the room for a long time. Once your bag is packed, store it near the door so you can grab it quickly when needed.
Work with your department and administrators to create a plan
In an emergency or unexpected event where you must evacuate your classroom, you may need extra hands on deck to help with the transition. This is especially true if you teach students who use wheelchairs or have students that may elope during transitions. Create a plan with your campus administration and see if there are any staff members that can report to your room in an emergency to provide extra support during drills or emergencies where you need to evacuate the class.
Hopefully, you will never need to execute your emergency evacuation plan, but if you do need to evacuate your room during the year, even for a drill, these tips will help to decrease anxiety, ensure safety, and make the situation less traumatic for everyone involved.